Category Archives: Wicked Vibes

What’s it Like to Be Out in Dancehall?

As part of its 2020 Pride Issue, Billboard is spotlighting the experiences of artists and executives working in genres that are not always included in conversations about Pride in the music industry. Here, Shuzzr, a publicist and founder of Shuzzr PR, recalls getting death threats and rethinking his business after coming out.

Dancehall is from a country where the culture of homophobia is praised and embedded in its fabric. It has evolved in the past few years, but there is still violence against us. I didn’t publicly come out as bisexual until 2014, and several friends told me, “Don’t do it. You’re in a good space.” But I was like, “No, I have to find comfort within myself to move forward.”

I made the decision to write an article on my website, and it made the front page of Jamaica’s No. 1 tabloid, The Jamaica Star. I got a lot of support, but for two years after that, I had no clients. Nobody wanted to work with me, nobody wanted to touch me. There were death threats, online harassment, bullying — you name it, I got it. People still refer back to that article and say, “I’d love to work with you, but the fans I have won’t tolerate me bringing you onto the team.”

Still, being out has allowed me to find more creative ways to survive in this industry. I’ve paired myself with clients who were probably not the kind of artist I would typically work with but are more tolerant. It’s easier for us to relate to each other. And whether people in Jamaica want to accept it, there is a community of LGBTQ professionals in dancehall that support each other.

You also have people who aren’t even in the community who are allies. There are people who have shown me nothing but love. I think it’s time for them to bring out even more support — I don’t want you to just be allies for me right now; I want you to be allies for all of us, all year-round. Let’s speak on the issues. Let’s call this stuff out.

by Stephen Daw

New Buju Single Released Tomorrow

By Jamaica Gleaner,

Fans of Buju Banton have been holding their collective breaths in anticipation of the arrival of his first album in over a decade. Originally set to be released in April, the date was pushed back. The wait, however, could come to an end later this month, and on Monday, the reggae and dancehall singer used social media to announce that another single will be released on June 12.

Against a background of a video featuring Black Lives Matter protesters, Banton chants lyrics which immediately dismiss any suggestions of him being a ‘wagonist’. The song, which seems to be titled Blessed, begins, “Ah nuh juss now, we ah scream and a cheer fi di team, Dem a plan how fi bench we and a dem rule supreme, Like a dem one fi clean…” and then cuts to what fans have been waiting for, “This Friday, tell dem seh we Blessed Upside Down 2020”. In the caption, he states, “In the dark we must find the light, even during these times … .”

Upside Down 2020 contains 20 tracks, and the reason for that is partially obvious. “This album comprises 20 tracks. Why? Because it’s 2020 … 2020 has a deeper understanding in my mind. It resonates with a clear vision and seeing things for what it is. And another reason, after a 10-year absence, we try to give the people some music for that missing time,“ Banton is quoted in an interview with Silverstar-NRG Radio.

Interestingly, his previous album, Before the Dawn, which was released in September 2010, had 10 songs. An review said of the set, “The 10 powerful tracks that comprise this very special project are easily some of the most prophetic songs written by Banton since his extraordinary entry into the music business over 20 years ago. Before the Dawn literally pierces the soul with traditional roots, easy rock and especially heartfelt reggae.” Before the Dawn went on to win the 2010 Grammy Award in the Best Reggae Album category.

Buju Banton’s co-manager, Donovan Germain, hailed Upside Down 2020 as “a good effort from an artiste who has had to be reintegrated into the system after 10 years. It’s the best possible effort at this time”. The legendary Penthouse Records producer, however, would not entertain a conversation about a possible Grammy nomination for the project. “I don’t ever think of Grammy when working on a project. Grammy doesn’t ever come into my consciousness. We make music for the love of it, not for Grammys. If the accolades come, they are appreciated,” he told The Gleaner.

At listening sessions in March, presided over by Banton himself, the album was previewed to small groups of local and international press. In an Instagram post, broadcaster Richie B commented, “This project will be a game changer. The world will never be the same. Reggae music and dancehall nice again.”

Ganja Man, which is said to be one of the singles, was released on April 20, known globally as ‘4/20’, a day to celebrate all things marijuana. Memories, a song with John Legend, had its world première on May 8.

Since his release from a federal prison over one year ago, Buju Banton has been selectively releasing singles, among them Steppa; Holy Mountain, a collab with Sizzla, Mavado and 070 Shake; Country for Sale; Dangerous City, a collab with dvsn and Ty Dolla $ign; a remix of Trust with Tory Lanez; and Murda She Wrote, which was featured on the Bad Boys For Life movie soundtrack.

Could Sting Stage Show Return?

THE recent staging of the Verzuz online musical clash between dancehall heavyweights Beenie Man and Bounty Killer continues to dominate conversation within the entertainment fraternity, and has even revived talk of a return of Sting, the Boxing Day stage show which popularised the lyrical competition among artistes, for a modern-day generation.

This was one of the topics raised during the online forum Dancehall Vibes, organised by The Dancehall Archives which is the brainchild of The University of the West Indies lecturer Professor Donna Hope.

Cultural entrepreneur and music industry insider Clyde McKenzie was one of the panellists on this forum and spoke to some of the reasons why the popularity of Sting wained over the years.

The show was last held in 2015 “Over the years the organic way in which clashes developed wained.

What resulted was contrived and the patrons didn’t really see this ‘beef’ as being real, and therefore Sting began to suffer. The numbers at the gate went down, other fora developed for artistes to express themselves, and the Sting brand just lost its edge. As a result of these factors corporate support for the event dwindled,” said McKenzie.

For Hope, the Sting brand did not move with the times and that resulted in loss of support for the event.

“As times moved on, Sting did not upgrade. To rationalise its own existence [it] needed to renew, repackage, and refresh itself to put the brand on new footing and respond to the energies of the people. The organisers needed to recognise the role played in the development of dancehall culture and the place it held in the hearts and minds of Jamaicans, at home and abroad. That vision was not fully developed and now that there is so much competition with globalisation and a wider access to entertainment of this kind, it is this lack of vision, renewal and modernisation that has resulted in its demise. We are in a different era from the one in which Sting was conceptualised,” Hope noted.

Both panellists, however, stated that all is not lost for Sting.

“Renewal demands a team of committed persons who have the resources — monetary and otherwise — to lift the event. The truth is, there is a yearning for the event among the underserved. When you look at the thousands who filled the National Stadium to see Buju Banton last year, these are the persons in the 40-60-year-old demographic who have disposable income and the luxury of time; they represent a large portion of the underserved in the entertainment fraternity. Although it will take a lot of work to bring Sting back, it is not impossible,” said Hope.

McKenzie supported the views of his fellow panellist, noting that the ball was now in the court of martketers who need to find creative ways to capitalise on the product.

“Verzuz [has] resucitate[d] the art form of clashing, and Sting was at the forefront of these on stage lyrical battles. Verzuz showed us that it can be done on the cheap and that there is a ready market. It also validated the popularity of dancehall music — debunking that argument — and [that] the genre cannot attract an international audience. We now just have to come up with those creative ways, and it is therefore up to the marketers to do the groundwork,” he stated.

The May 23 Verzuz event attracted nearly 500,000 online viewers, with over three million viewers taking part in the near three-hour programme, and over one billion online impressions being registered. Both Beenie Man and Bounty Killer also recorded significant increases in sales of their music as well as streaming figures in the days leading up to and since the event.

Observer senior reporter